by Marissa Lorenz
The bulk of West Grand students returned to school this week, coming together for in-person learning for the first time since March of this year. They finished the previous school year with teachers, staff, and families getting creative with both technology and curriculum in order to provide remote education when students were unable to return to the classroom after Spring Break due
to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.
In-person learning looks different, but feels much the same
As COVID-19 continues to be a concern in our community and world, school looked a little different this year. Parents are dropping kids off at the door where staff greet them for the traditional “hello” and now a temperature check. Lunch is taking place in places other than the cafeteria. Masks and/or face shields are being worn by anyone who enters the building. Extracurriculars have been rescheduled, so most students are heading right back home after school.
But in general, students, staff, and parents of these “in-person” learners, appear relieved about the return to even a “new normal” where students are able to see and interact with their friends and to connect face-to-face with their teachers and other school-based supporters.
West Grand School District Superintendent Dr. Darrin Peppard emphasizes this truth. “The first week of school at West Grand School District has been an awesome experience. Over the past few months, all of us–parents, students, and staffulty alike–have been living with the unknown. What will it look like, feel like, and will we be safe? What we have learned in the first week is that school is still that; it’s school. Teachers really needed their students. Students really needed their teachers.”
“Sure, we have masks on,” Peppard acknowledges. “And no, nobody likes masks, but it is something we have to do to keep everyone safe and to keep our schools open face-to-face for as long as possible. As I have gone into our classrooms this week, I see teachers teaching and students learning. I see smiles on so many faces;, yes, I can still see smiles. I have seen parents who are grateful that schools are open and proud of the children as they climb out of the car and head off for another day in the classroom.”
20 percent to do online learning
While Peppard reports that approximately 340 students are attending West Grand for in-person learning, he says, “We still have returning and new families coming in to register.” The District had budgeted for 410 students, hoping for a few more registrants than in the 2019-2020 school year.
About 80 students have registered for online learning, either full-time or for individual classes, with the District’s new partner, Colorado Digital Learning Solutions (CDLS).
CDLS is a nonprofit education provider contracted with the state to “provide supplemental coursework for Colorado students.” The option is different from what was offered in the spring when West Grand teachers worked to adapt their classroom-based curriculum to a virtual setting. CDLS uses curriculum developed for remote learning, pairing that with online learning support and expertise.
Because students are still registered with the District, state and local funding– which is traditionally determined on a per-student basis– will not be affected. The District will receive the full per-pupil funding. However, spending will be impacted by online participation. For students to participate in “fully asynchronous online courses supported by CDLS instructors who are Colorado licensed,” the District will pay $150 per elementary student per semester plus a $150 instructor fee per student and $100 for each course middle school and high school students register for each semester.
This move of families to online learning seems to be reflective of greater trends in Colorado. Dan Morris, Executive Director of CDLS, indicates that they are currently processing over 16,000 student registrations, up from 4,500 last year, and with more requests still coming in.
“We are seeing large requests in all the middle school and high school core subjects (Math, English, Social Studies, and Science) and requests in elementary grades K-5,” Morris says. “Districts of all sizes seem to be experiencing 15-20% of their parents requesting online options.”
Colorado’s online students have previously represented about 2.3% of KP12 public school enrollment, according to Bill Kottenstette, Executive Director of CDE’s Schools of Choice Office, with 20,517 students enrolled online last year, not counting students in online programs or participating in CEL classes.
Kottenstette clarifies that the Colorado Department of Education will not have accurate 20/21 enrollment data until after October Count but says, “We are hearing reports of increased demand for online learning. For CDLS, the demand is coming from schools and districts that are looking to have a greater capacity for offering supplemental online learning to students in their communities.”
“Overall, we know there will be an unprecedented use of remote learning across the state. The reasons vary and can include: aA temporary suspension of in-person learning, hybrid learning design to provide for increased social distancing, families wanting to enroll students for remote learning due to health or other types of emergency concerns, and. Pparents choosing online options for their students.”
Demand means delayed start for online studies and additional shift
The registration demand has caused delays for CDLS and brought up staffing concerns. “This last-minute rush of parents choosing an online option was not anticipated by districts and has created an overload on the registration process,” Morris explains. “We
had to delay the opening of our courses until September 1 to give us a chance to try and fill as many teaching positions as possible.”
He indicates that the virtual school had about 45 teachers delivering courses in 2019-2020. For 2020-2021, he says CDLS has “already hired 50 additional instructors and still need additional teachers to address the increased registrations.”
“The demand and volume havehas not slowed down, and so it just takes time to process and staff course requests. If we cannot find sufficient teachers, we will have to close down the registration process,” he observes.
“We are encouraging districts to use an option we are providing where CDLS can provide the high-quality online courses and a learning management system to manage the courses but then the district can use their local teachers to teach the online courses. Long-term, the best and most sustainable option is to have local districts use their teachers to support their students online.”
Dr. Peppard indicates that West Grand is already pivoting to this newest strategy for some courses.
“We are super excited that this option has presented itself and that we can partner our West Grand staffulty with our West Grand students through the CDLS platform,” he remarks.
But even this last option presents new challenges, given the unexpected need and little time for additional preparations.
Morris notes that CDLS normally provides its online instructors with “an initial instructor training in working in an online course and an online learning management system.” This year, however, he continues, “The timing and demand have made it impossible to provide the same in-depth training that we would normally provide new online instructors. Our more experienced instructors are providing support and mentoring as much as possible.”
But Kottenstette indicates that the State is also offering teacher support. “Training is available to support teachers who are teaching online/hybrid/blended classes this year. Some teachers may already have a foundation of readiness. Many teachers already incorporate online learning into their classrooms. For example, use of a learning management system. For new teachers, or teachers looking to strengthen their online teaching competencies, there is training available. Teachers do not need a specific online endorsement to teach online; however, teachers will find more coverage of online teaching strategies as part of ongoing professional learning.”
Optimism and resilience prevail
If one thing has been made apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the resilience and adaptability of people and communities, and both Colorado and Kremmling’s education communities continue to demonstrate those traits.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on education in our communities. We are fortunate to have great educators and great leaders committed to ensuring a continuation of learning for students during this pandemic,” reminds Kottenstette.
“Learning experiences will not be the same this year and we are all being asked to adapt to current conditions. With these adaptations will come new innovations. It will be important that as we return to a ‘new normal’ that we take the time to evaluate what makes sense for our learning environments moving forward and to leverage the immense learning brought on by the past six months.” Peppard shares, “A parent reached out to me Monday night and reminded me of a post I made at the beginning of all of this. I had challenged our staffulty to complete the sentence ‘We will….’ A popular statement from many staffulty and community members was ‘We will rise up.’”
“The parent shared with me…#WeDidRiseUp. –Challenges will come our way over the next many months, but I am confident here in West Grand that we’ve got this. Not just the school district, but the whole community. Because together #WeAreWestGrand.”
For more information about the Colorado Department of Education, go to www.cde.state.co.us/. Learn more about CDLS at ColoradoDLS. org. For more about West Grand schools, the online learning option, or other questions, contact the District Office at 970-724-3217.